River Rafting Opportunities

Wallowa/ Grande Ronde River | Wallowa/Grande Ronde River Regulations | North Fork John Day River

Wallowa/Grande Ronde River

Photo:Rafting the Grande RondeFor up to date information on things to know, river flows, and use restrictions, visit: BLM's Wallowa and Grande Ronde Wild and Scenic River Page

The river corridor between Minam, Oregon, and Heller Bar, Washington includes the lower 10 miles of the Wallowa River and the lower 81 miles of the Grande Ronde river. Public lands in the river corridor are managed by the Umatilla National Forest, Bureau of Land Management, and the States of Oregon and Washington.

The “upper river” between Minam and Troy consists of dense evergreen forests and grasslands within a terrain of rugged basalt canyons and steep ridges. Sections of the upper rivers have been designated by Congress as components of the National Wild and Scenic Rivers system in recognition of their unique natural character and outstanding resource values. The “middle river” parallels a country road through the remote community of Troy and surrounding ranches as the canyon gradually widens and forested lands yield to open, exposed ridges and rangelands. Below Boggan’s Oasis, the “lower river” is characterized by rocky, exposed, arid canyons containing the traces of ancient peoples and early homesteads amongst several active ranches. The entire river corridor contains unique natural features, spectacular scenery, and a variety of plant and animal life.

A typical river trip often begins at Minam, on the Wallowa River, and lasts 2 to 3 days, although shorter or longer trips are possible with proper planning. Other river access points include Wildcat (or Powwatka) Bridge, Mud Creek, Troy, and Boggan’s Oasis.

Because the rivers are free-flowing , water level and river character can change suddenly and dramatically. Typical river levels during the primary floating season range between 2,000 and 10,000 c.f.s. (Cubic Feet per Second). High, fast water conditions usually occur in the spring and early summer as warmer temperatures and rainfall melt mountain snow. Shallow, slower conditions typically occur by mid-July and remain through the fall and winter months, with less water and more exposed rocks being common. Boaters are strongly advised to obtain up-to-date river conditions and weather information when planning their trip. Visitors wishing to avoid crowds are advised to plan their trip to avoid all weekends and holidays between May and July.

Elevation ranges from 2,500 feet at Minam to 825 feet at Heller Bar on the Snake River. Average river gradient is 19 ft. per mile, and numerous rapids are common. Primary rapids are generally rated Class II-III (requiring technical maneuvering), but can increase in difficulty as river flows rise or fall. Scouting of all rapids is strongly advised. Because the inaccessible nature of the rivers makes search and rescue assistance very difficult and hazardous, boating parties should take every safety precaution and be prepared for the unexpected.

Recommended water craft include high-quality inflatable rafts, catarafts, drift boats/dories, and river kayaks. Poorly constructed rubber or vinyl rafts and float tubes may be dangerous and are not recommended. Canoes and kayaks are not recommended unless specifically designed for whitewater use and then only if operated by boaters with the advanced skills.

Primitive river campsites are available on a first-come, first-serve basis. In keeping with the natural character of the river, most campsites are maintained in a primitive condition and contain no water or garbage services, picnic tables, or restroom facilities. Because one campsite may receive hundreds of visitors during a single season, boaters are strongly encouraged to follow low-impact camping guidelines to minimize the traces of their visit.

Self-issue boating permits are required for every boating party. These are free of charge and do not restrict the number of trips or affect trip itineraries, and are available at all major river access points. Additionally, special use permits are required for any commercial outfitters or guides. Every boating party is required to carry and use a portable toilet suitable for the size of their group. All open fires (unless prohibited during high fire danger) must be contained in a fire pan and ash and charcoal must be packed out with other garbage. Fire pan and portable toilet use, as well as packing out all garbage and treading lightly on vegetation, helps to reduce visitor impacts and keep the campsites clean and healthy for future river users. Bulletin boards at many access points are posted with detailed river information, seasonal fire restrictions, and other special notices.

Unpaved roads may not be passable to all types of vehicles. Shuttle routes vary in length and conditions and often require good map reading skills to follow. Gasoline, food, and other services are not available in most rural areas. Travelers should be informed of current road conditions and be prepared in advance of their trip. Cellular phones may not operate properly in the deep canyons of the river corridor.

In 1987, federal and state public land agencies began administering a “River Ranger” program to assist with the management of the river corridor. River crews make regular float trips throughout the year to fulfill administrative functions, perform work projects, monitor river conditions and use levels, and provide information and assistance to visitors. They are happy to answer your questions and can provide you with detailed, up-to-date river information. Call the River Station at Minam at 541-437-5580.

The rivers guide is available for $6.00 At the Baker BLM office, the Walla Walla Ranger District (509) 522-6290, and the Supervisor's Office of the Umatilla National Forest in Pendleton (541) 278-3716.

Wallowa/Grande Ronde River Regulations

Help us to protect the river resources. Please observe the following regulations now in effect on the Wallowa/Grande Ronde River Corridor: For up to date information on things to know, river flows, and use restrictions, visit: BLM's Wallowa and Grande Ronde Wild and Scenic River Page

Permits: Permits are required for all private boating parties floating the Grand Ronde River. Permits are free of charge, are non-regulatory, and self-issued. These permits are necessary to gather accurate river use data to aid in river management. Permits can be obtained at major launch sites and at local agency offices. For more information on the permit system, call the Baker Resource Area Office at (541) 523-1256. Your cooperation is greatly appreciated.

User Permits: Permits are required for all commercial outfitter or guide services operating on the Wallowa/Grande Ronde River corridor in Oregon and Washington. Permits are administered by the U.S. Forest Service, Walla Walla Ranger District. For more information, please call 509-522-6290.

2021 Permitted Outfitter and Guides for the Grande Ronde River:

  • Cascadia Expeditions
  • Little Creek Outfitters
  • Minam Store Outfitters
  • North West River Outfitters
  • Oregon River Experience
  • River Odysseys West (ROW)
  • Salmon River Dories
  • Winding Waters River Expeditions
  • Oregon Whitewater Adventures
  • Three Rivers Ranch
  • Taylor Made Outfitters
  • Deschutes River Enterprises, LLC
  • Eastern Oregon River Outfitters

Required Equipment

These items are required by State and/or Federal law of every boating party:

PortableToilets: There are no public toilet facilities within most of the river corridor, so visitors are required to carry a portable toilet system. Many portable toilet designed for river use may now be purchased or improvised using leak-proof five-gallon buckets (with appropriate accessories). They are clean, easy to use, and help preserve the beauty of the river corridor you came here to enjoy. Waste may only be disposed of at a facility designed for that purpose such as an RV dump station, or septic system, scat machine (located at Looking Glass park in Asotin) or vault toilets.

Firepans: Check first to see if campfires are allowed! Open fires built or maintained on any BLM, State or Federal lands within the river corridor must be contained in a fire pan or fire blanket and all ash and debris must be removed from the river corridor and disposed of in a refuse container. Traditional rock-ring fire pits cause heavy impacts to a campsite by attracting and concentrating visitor traffic, compacting and sterilizing soils, and accumulating unburnable debris. Do not construct rock fire rings, and if you would like to help further, dismantle those rock rings that you find. Seasonal fire restrictions may also be in effect. It is common in mid to late summer for campfires to be prohibited due to wildfire danger. Please check regulations before you head out.

Life Jackets: The State Marine Board rules require that all boats must carry one Coast Guard approved life jacket for each person aboard, and that children 12 and under must wear life jackets while on boats that are underway. 85 percent of people who drown in boating accidents would have survived if they had worn a life jacket.

Motorized watercraft: Oregon State Marine Board regulations and Forest Service Orders prohibit motorized watercraft use from the Forest Boundary at Sheep Creek (river mile 80) downstream to the Oregon/Washington State line.

Motorized equipment: Forest Service and BLM regulations prohibit motorized vehicles, watercraft, and equipment (chainsaws, generators, etc.) within National Forest lands of the Grande Ronde River, including 1/4 mile on either side of the river. It is unlawful to carry, possess, or use motorized equipment within this section of the river.

Camping: Campsites are on a first-come-first-serve basis. Please make every effort to utilize low-impact practices and "Leave No Trace" of your stay. Remember that others will be using the same site after you. Pack out all food and garbage, and do your best to keep the area in a clean and natural state. Never camp in any area that has been posted or closed to use. Please be considerate of those who may be camped nearby.

Garbage: Garbage removal services are not available. Please help keep the river and campsites clean by packing out everything you brought in. Free trash bags are available from the River Station at Minam.

Information: For more information, contact the BLM River Station at 541-437-5580, or 541-523-1256.

North Fork John Day River

The North Fork John Day River means a lot of things to a lot of people. To river rafters it means rapids that are challenging enough for seasoned veterans, yet easy enough (on the lower section) for beginners.

For floaters, one of the most popular sections of the river is from Dale to Monument. Rapids on this section of the NFJD are generally categorized as Class 2+ Rapids. At higher water the river takes on a Class 3- character.

The length of the journey is 40 miles and it winds through forested canyons and past several feed-in creeks. The NFJD is fed primarily by snowpack in the Blue Mountains so its flow is very seasonal. Peak flow is usually in late April to early June and in some places can be as high as 20,000 CFS. Average flow is around 6,000 CFS. The best time to run the North Fork John Day is in April and May when the flow is near its peak.

This section of the NFJD River marks the transition between the foothills of the Blue Mountains and the high desert country typical of eastern Oregon. The terrain is mountainous with open forest of ponderosa pine and little evidence of civilization. Wildflowers are abundant in the spring and walks into the hills above camp are well worthwhile. There are several dispersed camp sites along the route; however, they are located on private land. Please be respectful of other people's property and adhear to the posted notice regarding use and restrictions.

The water is quite cold from the snowmelt, and the remoteness from civilization must be considered. The weather can turn cold unexpectedly with the possibility of frosty nights or snow flurries into June.

There are several put-ins near Dale. To reach Dale, take highway 395 either south from I-84 at Pendleton or north from highway 26 at Mt. Vernon. There are a fewcampgrounds are located near Dale. To reach the take-out, follow highway 395 south for 26 miles to the town of Long Creek, then turn west to Monument - another 21 miles. Take-out is near the bridge in Monument.

For more specific information about floating the North Fork John Day River, contact the North Fork John Day Ranger District in Ukiah at 541-427-3231.